Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Punished for Success?

About a week and a half ago, the Boulder Daily Camera had a feature story about our Bob and Judy Charles SmartHome. You can click here to see the story. It was really a great article and there was an accompanying video that shows the kind of technologies that are being used in the house to help individuals with developmental disabilities live fulfilling lives.

The online version of the story had a space for comments at the bottom. Most of the comments were very positive, but the first comment was, well, not so much. Here is a sample quote from that first post:

“Let me get this right.. $1 million to build the home. $65,000 PER year for each of the 8 residents.. That is over 1/2 a million dollars PER year... I am confused.. I am not at all saying these people do not deserve a home, much less one fitted to their disabilities.. But seriously. . . I am MORE than a little disturbed at this BLATANT waste of government funds when so many are in need…”

Believe it or not, the point of this blog post is not to debate the person posting the comment, although I do want to emphasize that the construction of the home was paid for entirely through private donations and grants, no funds designated for services were used to construct the home or outfit it with the technology, and that the $65,000 figure quoted is the average yearly cost for comprehensive services in our area, irrespective of whether or not an individual lives in the SmartHome, or one of our 16 other PCAs and Group Homes, or one of our more than 80 Host or Foster Homes.

Instead, I want to use this blog post to talk about why those of us in the human services field sometimes feel as though we have to apologize for being “too successful.” It reminds me of the movie “Oliver!,” when Oliver finishes his gruel and has the audacity to ask for more. The head of the orphanage is incredulous that anyone would ever ask for more.

On more than one occasion, I have felt like Oliver when I have been warned about showing off innovative ideas and programs like our SmartHomes project because it is “too nice.” People are worried that we will essentially get punished for our successes, because if the government agencies who fund us will look at how much we have achieved and figure that if we can be so successful with the amount of funding we get, then maybe we don’t need so much funding after all.

The system wants you to be poor, and we are supposed to be suffering.

I reject that notion. Like Oliver, I want more.

A key part of Imagine!’s mission is to create and offer innovative supports to people of all ages with cognitive, developmental, physical, and health related needs. I do not apologize for our organization’s wholehearted embrace of being innovative and looking for new and unique solutions to issues facing us all. I do not apologize for our organization’s ability to come up with ground-breaking programs in the face of extremely limited resources. And I certainly do not apologize for offering the individuals we serve the opportunity to live a full life, instead of a life where services are limited to the bare necessities and nothing more.

Mind you, I am realistic. I know that with the current system of funding and with significant waitlists for services, we can’t possibly offer this hypothetical great life to everyone. Resources continue to dwindle, and the taxpayers in Colorado have made it clear that they do not consider services for individuals with developmental disabilities to be a high priority.

But until the day comes that it is literally impossible, I will continue to push this organization and the great people who work here to strive every day for the very top when it comes to developing novel services. I will push us all to explore all options for new and inventive ways of funding these services. Either we are going to do quality work or we won’t do it at all. I can’t imagine any other approach, and I am honored to work with so many people who feel the same way.

Then again, what do I know?


  1. Hi, I read this posting a few days ago and have not been sure how I might respond. I guess I just want to say, ‘Well said, Mark.’ I do feel the same way and I would hope we (corporately and personally) do not need to fear our success. The challenge, as you stated, remains to explore and find options for new and inventive ways of funding these services. I guess we could say that maybe our greatest moments are yet to be seen!

  2. Mark, I have sent you a lenghly note with my response, because I can not cut and paste. Feel free to cut and paste my response into a comment.

  3. As requested by rchase49, I have included the entire text of the lengthy note. - Mark

    I know that you stated this was not meant to be an post on the person
    posting the comment. I would suggest that if Imagine! is a bit
    defensive and this does not serve us or our consumers well.

    Below is the part of the entry that was not included as part of the post.
    "A smart house, in this economy when there are thousands of families
    on a wait list to even be able to afford a place to live... My Father
    is an elderly disabled man who has been trying to seek housing for
    over 2 years, in the meantime camping out on my couch, putting my own
    life and my Son's life in jeopardy with the management company..."

    I am a bit concerned by what was left out. I think that as Leaders,
    we have to work hard at putting aside our pride and really listen to
    individuals. We may even have to filter out negativity, insults and
    anger. If we can do this as individuals and organizations, maybe just
    maybe we can accomplish our goal.
    I ask you this, how is this person any different from me?

    I would suggest that we have a little compassion for this person,
    instead of becoming defensive. I would suggest that this is an
    opportunity to think about the Smart Home's Mission of offering
    services, by sharing what we have learned. . I think it should
    strengthen our resolve to accomplish our goals and share our finding
    with anyone that needs it. I would suggest that this comment should
    fire us up, strengthen our resolve, not anger us.

    “Deep listening is miraculous for both listener and speaker. When
    someone receives us with open-hearted, non-judging, intensely
    interested listening, our spirits expand.” Sue Patton Thoele

    Keep of the good work.